Music is shaped by innovation. It is shaped by the people with the talent, creativity, and smartness to create different music. Some of the most influential musicians in history are Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. In terms of pure musical influence no one comes close to Bach as he is sometimes called the father of harmony. Ok, so where can I get some tickets? Oh, wait. You can’t because he died in 1750. You also can’t go see Mozart or Beethoven or even more modern influential musicians like Bud Powell or Thelonious Monk. Fortunately, there is still hope to see one of the most influential musicians. People are still innovating, maybe more than even before. But who is the most influential musician who is alive and active, a musician who is still innovating and performing live and in the studio? Some of the people that come to mind are Paul McCartney, Jacob Collier, and of course, Herbie Hancock. There are many other artists that could have this title, but I’m going to show you why I consider that Herbie Hancock is the most influential musician alive today.Order now
For those who haven’t heard about him, let’s start by introducing him as one of the best jazz piano players in the world, still alive today. Nobody who knows a little about modern jazz would argue this statement. Herbie’s eminence as a great jazz composer and performer is undisputed by jazz musicians and enthusiasts like myself. However, outside of the realm of jazz, his outstanding musical merits are underrated and not many people are aware of them to the extent that he deserves. Some may never even know his name. Some perhaps heard of him but consider him just a modern jazz pianist. What the general public usually doesn’t know is the unparalleled impact that his innovation and creativity has had in modern music as a whole.
To be really influential, a musician shouldn’t have to stay within the limits of just one genre. That is restriction of how wide an artist’s influence can grow in a global level. To be a legend, you must step out of your comfort zone and change the world. And that’s exactly what Hancock did. Even if his foundations are deeply rooted on jazz, his impact has reached all kinds of genres beyond the sphere of jazz. Assimilating elements from jazz, beebop and even classical music, he strongly influenced the development of pop, rock, funk, R&B, hip hop, fusion and electronic music.
When we talk about a musician being influential we may think about a few superficial signs of success, like their physical appearance, fame, showmanship, how many fans they have or how much money they have made. Hancock is certainly competitive in all these traits, but that is not, in my view, what determines his extraordinary degree of influence.
There is a deeper way of measuring the true influence of an artist, and here is where Hancock shines the most. It has to do with innovation. Innovation in music means being the first to try certain things and finding beautiful and novel combinations of sounds and styles never heard before. It also means that other musicians after him would -knowingly or not- follow his footsteps shaping the world’s musical landmark and leaving his unique, undeletable mark on it.
The way I see it, I wouldn’t say that a musician who just plays music, sings or perform an instrument is really influential, no matter how many “number one hits” or “golden disk awards” they got. For me, real influence comes from original creations: bringing something to the world which wasn’t there before. In music, that is reflected by original compositions, and a talented experimentation with the eclectic mixture of sounds, rhythms and styles. Herbie Hancock is a surprisingly prolific composer, and his flexibility towards the traditional frontiers of music genres, through his 50 years career, has brought more innovation to the world of jazz and modern music than any other musician alive.
Hancock has created his own voicings, that many piano students will learn probably without knowing who they owe them to. He has developed unique features involving innovative sequences in harmonies and melodies, of widespread use in jazz and other genres after him but unknown before his creation of them.
Although this fact is not very well known by people outside of the jazz environment, Herbie’s influence in electronic music was substantial. In the 60’s and 70’s he introduced the electronic keyboard for playing in live concerts before anyone else had ever done it in jazz. Moreover, he was the first musician to use synthesizers in his live tours. This was completely innovative and inspiring for many other musicians in different genres who soon adopted these technologies too. Disco music, and electronic music as a whole, wouldn’t probably have existed or would have evolved very differently without him.
As the decades pass, Hancock’s innovative power doesn’t dim. On the contrary, he is quick to embrace any new technology that becomes available and put it at the service of good music. Today, Hancock is at the forefront of the use of electronic equipment and digital sound manipulation for the music industry. At age 78, he still goes on tours around the world. In them, he doesn’t repeat the same old hits as so many other elderly artists. On the contrary, if you go to one of his concerts you will probably be surprised by new melodies, heterogeneous rhythms, intriguing sounds and special effects that you have never experienced before.
If you had never heard about Herbie Hancock before or if you weren’t aware of the extent of his achievements, I invite you to listen to some of his wonderful discography as soon as you have a chance to do so. You’ll be glad that you did. And if you have the chance to go see him live in a concert, don’t let it go! It’s a privilege to have one of the greatest musicians of all times still among us and to be able to listen to him live. His gift shouldn’t be a secret kept only by jazz lovers. All the listeners of the numerous genres that he has directly or indirectly enhanced with his creativity and innovation deserve to have the chance to appreciate his incredible talent too.